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Fluent Irish speaker Mark Sykes following his heart in switching allegiance from Northern Ireland, says Kenny

Northern Ireland manager Ian Baraclough has called the decision a ‘massive disappointment.’

Mark Sykes in action for Oxford in the League One play-off final.
Mark Sykes in action for Oxford in the League One play-off final.
Image: Adam Davy

Updated Aug 24th 2020, 9:31 PM

Updated at 21.31

STEPHEN KENNY HAS confirmed Oxford United midfielder Mark Sykes is switching his international allegiance from Northern Ireland to the Republic. 

Sykes, 23, has represented Northern Ireland at various age groups and played under Baraclough for their U21s, but has not appeared for the senior side and has switched his allegiance to the Republic of Ireland instead.

Kenny revealed Sykes is a fluent Irish speaker, and said the process takes time and so Sykes is not in contention for next week’s Uefa Nations League games with Bulgaria and Finland. 

“It takes a number of months, it’s not something that happens overnight, I am focusing on the matches here but obviously you know, Mark is someone who expressed an interest in playing for Ireland. He’s a good player, a really good player, he’s had a good season, he’s a fluent Irish speaker, he’s very proud of his Irish identity but it’s in its infancy really.” 

Northern Ireland boss Ian Baraclough Sykes’ decision is “a massive disappointment”.

Baraclough, who replaced Michael O’Neill in the role in June, has named his first senior squad for next month’s Nations League games against Romania and Norway.

“It’s one of massive disappointment for me and everyone within the Association,” said Baraclough, when asked for his reaction.

“Mark’s a player we’ve worked long and hard with, not just me but coaches and managers before that, and he’s one we expected to carry on in his pathway.

“It’s disappointing to find out over the weekend that he wants to be considered for the Republic.”

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Baraclough has named a 26-man squad for his first game in charge in Bucharest on 4 September and against Norway at Windsor Park on 7 September.

Sykes’ Oxford team-mate Joel Cooper will fill the void after receiving his first senior call-up.

“The player (Sykes) rang me,” Baraclough said. “Respect to him for picking up the phone, but it was disappointing to hear from him.

“Subsequently there were many phone calls over the weekend to try and encourage him to think more about his decision, but we think his mind is made up, so we have to move on.

“I think I said a few weeks ago, I want players who want to play for Northern Ireland and are fully committed, 100%, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Following their two Nations League games, Northern Ireland face Bosnia and Herzegovina in their crunch European Championship qualifying play-off semi-final in October.

Updated at 16.00 to include quotes from Stephen Kenny

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